Emilio Vicente spoke Tuesday night for those who weren’t there.
Not just for the Latinos killed and injured in the shootings in the Orlando gay club, he said, but for the Latino queer people who don’t feel welcome anywhere, sometimes even within the gay community.
About 150 people gathered on the Carrboro Town Commons for a short vigil. Afterward, Vicente, 24, stood off to the side. Two women came up to thank him for speaking, one gently touching his shoulder.
“It’s hard to be Latino and gay in the gay community,” he explained. “If you ask what is a gay person, I think most people have an image of what that is. We’re not always part of the conversation around LGBTQ issues.”
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“If we want to be a community, we must acknowledge not everyone is always included,” he said.
Terri Phoenix, the director of the LGBTQ Center at UNC, organized the gathering.
Phoenix, who is transgender, said gay clubs are a symbol of the community, “so that’s why it matters,” to many across the country who share the LGBTQ identity that the shootings took place in one.
Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle told the crowd she married her partner Alicia Stemper in a ceremony on the Town Commons where they were now mourning.
She noted other acts of violence against gay people: the Stonewall riots in New York City, the shooting of gay city supervisor Harvey Milk in San Francisco and the murder of Matthew Shepard.
A 1973 arson attack on the Upstairs Lounge in New Orleans that killed 32 people and injured 14 was, until Orlando, the deadliest attack on a gay club, she said.
“Most people do not even know it occurred,” she said.
A prayer service held for the victims in a nearby church was villified by some in the congregation, Lavelle said. Some victims’ families never came forward to claim the bodies.
In college, Lavelle said she would drive three and four hours to gay clubs like the Power Company in Durham and Scorpio in Charlotte.
“Back then it was the only place you could be yourself,” she said.
Those killed in Orlando, “could just as easily have been me or any of my friends ... staked out, hunted out, shot so easily.”
Police are investigating whether the shooter Omar Mateen was gay.
That prompted former Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt to ask, if that’s true, what it means for society.
“We need to stop and reflect upon the horrors of living within an oppressive society ... that led him to develop a response to the world that involved the taking of 49 other lives,” Kleinschmidt said. “There’s a deeper lesson about the oppression that exists in our world and in this country to be learned from that fact.”
But that lesson also gives people a choice, he said, “because we are all part of either standing by and allowng that kind of society to be perpetuated or we will be those who will stand and name ourselves as part of a community.”
Community was also Vicente’s emphasis, when he spoke in English and in Spanish.
“Debemos hacer una mejor comunidad,” he said. We must make a better community.
Vicente, who grew up in Siler Cty, said he did not come out until he came to college, even though he always knew he was gay.
Even now, he is careful about what he says in public about someone he likes because he doesn’t know how others around him might react.
“I think all of us always have in our mind thinking about our safety,” he said.
The shootings in Orlando “give us all another pause,” he said. “It’s going to make us think twice.”